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The idea of India: A lifetime spent among Muslim friends
This month I completed 84 years on planet Earth. Not even a speck in Nature's scheme of things! Nevertheless, as long as we are in human bondage, one realises that existence is not all maya but all too 'real' for us, until we go the way of all flesh!

I am often asked, if I were to live life all over again, what I would have liked to change. Nothing! It has been a life endowed with 'Goodwill towards all and malice towards none'. I have no regrets.

What excites me the most is that no generation in human history, has seen so many changes in one life time, as my generation. In my childhood, we have travelled from one village to another by bullock carts. Now we jet around the world. To despatch urgent messages, I was made to cycle down to the imposing telegraph office, where the clatter of dit-dah-dit of the Morse key fascinated me. Now WhatsApp does it in a jiffy for you. One whole book can fill up, chronicling the different quantum leaps the world has made in just a life span.

Here I want to examine one of the tectonic shifts in our social fabric. Having grown up in Kanpur, Lucknow and Delhi, I have inherited the Ganga-Jamuna tehzeeb. Perhaps, today we may be lampooned as being 'sickular'.

We Kayasthas were often referred to as 'aadhe Musalman'. In public, my elders sported achkan and churidar. While my father taught Hindu philosophy and was a Sanskrit scholar, he wrote to my grandfather in Urdu or Persian. For every new edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica and Encyclopaedia of World Religions, he was invited to write on Buddhism and Jainism.

Our family was an example of India's composite culture. As all of us siblings studied in Christian schools, we are as familiar with the Bible, as our own Hindu scriptures.

Our neighbouring bungalow belonged to a Nawab. Socially we mixed seamlessly by participating in each other's festivals and weddings. In Lucknow, as my uncle was in charge of Court of Wards (which looked after the minor heirs of Nawabs), I have had a real life glimpse of what goes by the name of 'Muslim socials' films like, 'Mere Mahboob', 'Barsaat ki Raat', or 'Umrao Jan'. At a friend's place, we were regulars at baithaks, graced by ghazal queen Akhtaribai Faizabadi.

In Hyderabad, we were once invited to a wedding in the Nizam's family. Invisible amongst the clutter around Char Minar, behind rusting and creaking corrugated gates, was a fairyland to behold. Inside the huge palace hall, were marble water fountains, chandeliers and veiled chajjas (balconies) for the zenana. A battle royal was going on between two qawaals, along with their fellow singers. When dinner was served I shared the dastarkhan, with my Muslim driver, Omar. Being a vegetarian, I stuck to the vegetarian dishes and sweets.

During the freedom struggle, my parents came to know some freedom fighters. On the run, Aruna Asif Ali went underground for sometime at our home in Delhi, when an arrest order was issued by the British. Our house was raided at night by the CID. In 1942, after senior leaders were arrested, she had dared to hoist the Congress flag again at Gowalia Tank, Bombay.

For a few years, during a sabbatical from the US, my father had poet Josh Malihabadi as his colleague at the Ministry of Information& Broadcasting. Josh Saheb spent most of the evenings at our home. He talked to us not so much about poetry, but went into raptures about the mangoes from Malihabad. His other favourite subject was the art of paan making. His sitarist son taught my siblings sitar. Finally, he left for Pakistan, as he could not support his large family and apparently Pakistan offered him some help (as the story goes). He gave us a copy of his book 'Yaadon ki Barat'.

Urdu poet Majaz Lakhnawi, uncle of Javed Akhtar always stayed with us, when in Delhi.

Developing fault lines in society:

From my childhood till now in Mumbai, on and off, we have had Muslim house helps or drivers. The Muslim maids as well as the other Hindu maids were illiterate. Religion was never an issue and they melded well with the family. Our last maid in Mumbai was computer literate, well versed in Hindi, Urdu and Arabic. Every night, she would explain passages from the Holy Koran to my elderly sister-in-law, who herself was a scholar. As a leading educationist and women's rights champion, my sister-in-law was impressed.

So I was taken aback when one day she told us, ' Aap log itne achhe hain, lekin aap kabhi jannat nahin ja sakte.' She added, 'Ek kazi ko bula kar kalima padhwa lenge, to sab kuch thik ho jaaye ga!' ('You are good people, but you can never go to heaven. Just call the Kazi and let him read out the Kalima to you. Then everything will be fine!')

Our driver Omar in Hyderabad was also well educated. He used to often talk to us about Buddha and his teachings. For a few years Omar has been missing. The last I heard, Omar had joined Al Qaeda.

One notices increasing radicalization in every religion and even among castes and linguistic groups. This is an ominous sign. In spite of setbacks, the idea of India has always prevailed. I am sure that, 'We shall overcome!'

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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